What I'm Reading
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Wednesday, September 5. 2012
Last month, I had quite the epiphany that really shook my faith in humanity. I was having dinner with some friends and acquaintances in Palo Alto (one of the wealthiest areas in Silicon Valley). We were leaving the restaurant after some dessert, and one of the acquaintances wanted to stop by at Yogurtland for some dessert. I was supposed to be driving everyone home, and my friends had an early flight to catch in the morning, so we were already short on time, but we let the acquaintance stop for yogurt. We JUST had dessert, but whatever. The acquaintance finally gets her dessert and we start walking towards the car again.
Along the way, we saw a single mother on the side of the road with a sign that read, "please help, homeless, have three hungry children to feed." The acquaintance angrily says, "I have no respect for people like that." The rest of my party was unprepared for such a reaction, and we wondered if we misunderstood what was just said. The acquaintance clarifies her stance by saying, "If you can't afford having three children, you shouldn't have three kids. It's her fault for choosing to have that many kids, and I have no respect for people like that. She shouldn't be able to have kids." No one could comprehend these cold remarks, especially since that single mother wasn't even begging us for money, she was just standing there with a sign. My acquaintance couldn't understand that sometimes life just happens, and people fall into poverty sometimes without any fault of their own.
The walk back to the car was long and awkward. When we got to my car, the acquaintance asked if she could eat her dessert in my car. As an act of social justice, I told her no, and to throw out that yogurt.
I was completely shocked by the acquaintances outlook on the poor. I know for a fact that she came from a rich family, and went to some of the most expensive private schools money had to offer. She had just landed a job at a prestigious tech company. I couldn't comprehend how someone with such privledge could be so cold with no empathy for the poor. The thing that worried me the most is that as she grows older, she would be our future leaders, and in a position of power. These events really made me ponder, what a leader should have in order to have the right to lead? What should leaders do to prevent them from growing cruel as they accumulate power? These thoughts weighed on my mind as I went to camp.
Off To Camp
So I had just got home from Ecuador, and I had one week to get ready for camp. I had exactly one week at work, and then it was back out to the field. I had time to unpack my luggage from Ecuador, repack, rearm, and we were off. This second leg of the journey was definitely going to test my endurance. This year we had 32 kids registered, and about 50 volunteers signed up. I had a headstart on growing my annual camp beard used for repelling ladies who think I'm 18. Alright, we're ready for camp!
On Sunday afternoon, we drove up to the Santa Cruz mountains to the camp site. The camp site was pretty nice, it had a swimming pool, dining hall, chapel, archery field, cabins, basketball court, volleyball court, and soccer field. The cabins we stayed at could house eight people, and each had two bathrooms. I had the honour to serve with Oliver again this year, a recurring camp counselor. Jeff was also back, the man who had suffered head trauma and couldn't speak nouns or numbers, so he resorts to pointing to objects. There was also a new guy I had never worked with before, Dennis.
The Children Cometh
We woke up Monday morning, and started decorating our cabins for the kids. We also started getting some preliminary information about the kids we would be taking care of for the week. One of the camp directors came up to me and told me I was getting a kid from the wait-list, and he was a very troubled kid, so he would be a handful. I put my alert status up to Defcon 1, and prepared for the worst.
The kids arrived on a bus, and my little camper, Fabian, came up to me. I'm thinking, this little quiet kid was supposed to be handful? Surely this was a mistake. My second kid, Darrian, got off the bus, and I recognized him from last year's camp. The third kid, Jesus, got off the bus, and he was this kid that was just always smiling. Thankfully, they were all 11 years old. I always request 11 year olds at camp because they're typically old enough that I can reason with them. My logic and reasoning is impeccable, so usually I can get the kids to behave for the most part.
After observing Fabian for a couple hours, I realized this kid was totally mellow, and very quiet, so I had to try to get him more involved in activities. Thankfully by night time, he felt at home, and started participating in everything. He caused no problems at all, so I didn't understand why everyone was saying he was going to be a handful.
The next morning though, we discovered that he hardly got any sleep because he had a toothache. Turns out he was in need of a root canal, and his caregivers hadn't taken him the dentist. We would take him to the nurse station for oral numbing agents, or children's advil, but these were all bandage solutions unfortunately. On one of the nights, he threw up because the painkillers were too harsh on his system. I felt bad and powerless because there really wasn't anything I could do to help him.
Camp is a funny place when it comes to love. Kids and teenagers seem to always pair up and couples form at camp. I didn't realize that even older adults were pairing up. I was trying to figure out why one of my counselors was missing in action. Then one evening, I saw him exchanging phone numbers with an older lady, and everything became crystal clear.
There was another funny dynamic that happened in our cabin. Apparently all the ladies loved Fabian, but he wasn't interested at all. Darrian's sister also liked Fabian, so she was always dropping by to bug him. I guess Darrian was jealous that her sister was giving all her attention to this new kid. Darrian comes to the counselors complaining that his sister wasn't talking to him, and he was afraid he would lose his sister to Fabian. We tried explaining that it was a harmless crush, and his sister would revert to her normal self after camp. Darrian wasn't quite satisfied with our answer and began threatening to beat up Fabian, or he would just sit in corners and pout. We had a weird frenemy situation.
The frenemy situation changed when a bully from another cabin was introduced to the equation. Whenever the bully would hassle Fabian, Darrian would come to Fabian's aid and would stand up to the bully. Kind of funny that Darrian would defend his cabin mates regardless about how he felt. I personally wish I could have taught that bully a thing or two.
I remember a hilarious conversation that happened one morning at the breakfast table. The boys in my cabin were debating which girl counselor they would rather date.
Jesus: Fabian, would you ever date Kelly if she was your age?
Fabian: Ew no.
Jesus: Why not?
Fabian: Because she's vegetarian.
One of the counselors heard the answer, and asked if my bad influence was rubbing off on the kids. I had nothing to do with formulating that answer, but it was a hilarious answer.
The Gentleman's Haberdashery
Thursday was the big day at camp. The boys went out on a fishing trip, while the girls had an elaborate tea party. The gender roles are pretty funny for me because the men were out hunting while the women would be literally putting on dresses and makeup for their tea party. Every year, there are some girls that would much rather go fishing, and some boys would much rather sip tea. As a member of the British Commonwealth, I think every gentleman should know how to sip a fine tea.
I proposed that next year, the boys will have a Gentleman's Haberdashery. The boys will dress up in sports coats, wear top hats and monocles, and sip tea next to a roaring fireplace debating politics. You know, they do what real gentleman do. Who else would teach this generation about how to be a gentleman after all? The directors of the camp loved the idea, and I'll be very amused if they implemented the idea.
Darrian seemed to have some confidence issues. Whenever he tried a new activity and wasn't instantly good at it, he would pout, complain, and stop trying. He expected to be good at everything, but the reality is, you can't be good at everything. Darrian was always comparing himself with Fabian. I was constantly trying to get Darrian to think more positively, and put things in perspective. He was very good at archery compared to all of the other kids, so I told him to focus on his strengths.
On Thursday, all the boys went to the lake for a fishing trip. Last year when we went, the fish weren't really biting, and we might have caught 9 fish total in 3 hours. Fast forward to this year, and Fabian somehow manages to catch 9 fish in the first hour. I worked a bit with Jesus, and he manages to catch a fish as well. After the second hour, Darrian starts pouting and complaining because he hadn't caught any fish yet. He wanted to quit and go home. I had it with his negativity, so I told him, "if you don't put your hook in the water, you're never going to catch fish, so cast your fishing rod now." He takes a deep sigh of protest, and casts his rod and says, "this is pointless." Before he finished saying that, he gets a bite. He pulls in this little bass. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. He's pretty excited about his catch, and I begin imitating him about what he said before, "this is pointless, I want to go home, I'm never going to catch anything." I think he finally realized why it was important to try again even if he failed the first time. It was a great life lesson for the lad. I'm definitely not the nurturing type when it comes to teaching kids; I'm definitely the tough love kind of person.
By the end of the day, Fabian someone managed to catch 25 fish, Jesus took in 9 fish, and Darrian caught 5 fish. All of the boys got something.
The Petting Zoo
This year, the camp managed to get a petting zoo up to the campsite. The kids were greeted with turtles, rabbits, goats, llamas, ducks, and more. One of the funniest things that happened was the tortoise. The kids were gathered around the tortoise, and then the ground around it started turning yellow and wet. Oh my goodness, the tortoise was peeing! The kids didn't realize what was going on and they asked me what the tortoise was doing. I told them, "oh... the tortoise sprung a leak, move along children." The kids looked at me funny, took my answer at face value, and quietly dispersed. Did I mention I enjoy creating distorted realities for children?
Time Is Fleeting
While other cabins struggled to maintain peace and order with their kids, I always managed to have the most behaved kids ever. For crying out loud, every night the kids in my cabin wanted us to read them Bible stories, and they were always asleep by 9:30pm. That alone is a miracle and proves the existence of God.
One of the nights, the kids were talking about how much they loved this camp. Fabian asked us what the minimum age was to help volunteer at the camp. The minimum age was 16 years old. He then said something that took me aback. He said when he grows up to be 16, he wanted to come back to the camp and volunteer as a counselor. I don't think in all the years that I've served at camp that I've heard a kid think about giving back to the community; usually camp is just a fun summer thing that they enjoy. It then hit me that in 5 years, this kid would be old enough to come back to the camp and be like one of us. Here's a 11 year old kid, and in a blink of an eye, he'll be a full-grown teenager. That was a really strange profound thought for me.
There was this one awkward skinny little kid at camp that seemed a lot smaller than he should have been by his age. When I looked upon his face, it looked like he was deathly afraid of the world. The world was out to get him; he even got kicked by a goat at the petting zoo. I asked about this kid's backstory, and it was absolutely soul crushing. It turns out that the kid had night terrors, and had a really hard time sleeping.
For several nights, he would be in bed tossing around, only to wake up from his nightmares every five minutes. One of the counselors had to sleep on the floor next to this kid's bed because the kid was having such terrible dreams. I have to give my hats off to that counselor for sacrificing his comfort and sleep every night in order to give a sense of security to the kid. Clearly there was something terribly wrong with the kid. We were reading through some of the kid's writings, and he wrote that he was scared that his nightmares would come true in real life.
On the Thursday night, we had Pastor Art come in to pray for the kid before he went to bed. And then, something remarkable happened that night. The kid actually had a peaceful night of sleep and he didn't wake up once. In the morning the kid reported that he didn't have his night terrors. That report absolutely blew me away. As a man of science, it's one of those things where science and reason couldn't explain what was going on, and that is where faith begins.
Whenever people hear about abused and neglected children, they assume that the kids have huge problems and are broken individuals. With such low expectations, I'm always blown away by how resilient these kids are. Some of them possess huge potential that no one thought would be possible. One of the nights, we had a talent show which the kids would perform at. One of the girls performed a song that she wrote all by herself. Everyone was shocked that she had that creative potential.
Another evening, we had a reptile handler show up for some show-and-tell about reptiles and snakes. The handler asked the kids some scientific questions about reptiles. This one girl in the crowd single-handedly answered all the questions in precise detail and with a ton of depth. I remember one of the counselors being worried that this girl wasn't really hanging out with the other girls in the cabin, and it seemed like she preferred to hang out with adults instead. They were worried the girl might be socially isolated. I ended up telling that counselor that she didn't have to worry about her girl, she was just intellectually gifted and she's smarter than every other kid, and that was why she wasn't socializing with the other kids her age. I took it one step further, I told them next year, give me all the intellectually gifted children. I would create a league of extraordinary gifted children, much like what Dr. Xavier did with the X-Men.
At the end of every camp, we get the kids to fill out a card for the hope box. It basically encourages kids to think about the future, and write down what they would like to change in their life, and what they want to be in the future. The boys weren't really engaging with the task at hand, so the hope box coordinator asked me to get the kids interested in filling out the card. So I thought, hmmm, what do kids like? I know, dinosaurs! And..... dubstep? I proceeded drawing dinosaurs declaring their love of dubstep on the cards. The coordinator seemed bemused by my efforts. Regardless what she thought, my kids saw the drawings and started asking about my art, and ended up filling out the hope cards. Mission accomplished.
Missions Trip vs Kids Camp
One of the questions I got was, which experience was harder? Was my Ecuador missions trip harder? Or was Royal Family Kids Camp (RFKC) harder? I would have to say that RFKC was harder. It's very possible that I'm biased because RFKC came immediately after my Ecuador trip, so I wasn't fully recovered. The main difference is at RFKC, you're pretty much on-duty 24/7. There really isn't time each day to just sit back and relax for any extended amount of time. In Ecuador, every day we had at least 4-6 hours of down time where you could socialize with friends. At camp, you're pretty much watching the kids all the time, and when I'm on duty, I tend to focus on the task at hand and socializing really isn't a priority. On the rare night off at camp, you had only an hour or two off. Furthermore, as an introvert, I need me-time to feel recharged; Ecuador was good about that because if I wanted my own time, I could just lock myself in the hotel room. At camp, it was pretty much impossible to go anywhere away from people at night.
The end of camp always leads to sad departures. We walk down this one dusty road one last time to drop the kids off to their bus, and then the kids head home. The bus was surrounded by other teary eyed counselors waving goodbye to the kids. This song was going through my head, and rather than crying, I just saluted my kids.
I guess I just celebrate the fact that we all made it out of camp once more in one piece, and we were able to positively affect some of these kids. Yes the kids have sad stories, but hopefully we helped change some of their futures. Honestly for me, the hardest part of the last day of camp was seeing the parents picking up the kids. Some of these folks are pretty sketchy, and you know the kids are going back to suboptimal environments, but you pray that the kids are resilient enough to overcome their circumstances and somehow reach their full potentials in life. That's the best I can do.
Before leaving for camp, I was unsure if I had the endurance to do camp after coming back from Ecuador. Thankfully I was able to get through camp without a hitch, and it didn't exceed my limits. Back to the original idea of 'the right to lead', when times get rough, people look for leaders to inspire and motivate them. Camp has definitely built up my mental toughness, and I will be there to rally folks. In the coming weeks and months, I'm sure my team will be running into some rough patches, and people will be looking for inspiration. After this many weeks out in the field, life's problems suddenly seem very small, and I think I'll be able to endure whatever comes next. This was the second leg of the marathon, bring forth the third leg of the race.
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"We work in the dark to serve the light."
--Ezio Auditore, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
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